In Profile: Keith Gebert

The game is in the details

Keith Gebert, founder of RightBridge Financial Group based in NYC/New Jersey, was playing baseball before he entered kindergarten. As a star baseball player in high school and college, Gebert played in the Little League World Series, the AAU Travel League, and the international Friendship Games. As the 2015 Major League Baseball season opens, we talked with Gebert about how the game and a college coach gave him the mental toughness and agility needed for a successful financial planning practice.

L&HA: In high school and college you had tremendous success in baseball. How did that experience inform your financial planning practice?
KG: Baseball gave me the drive and that never-quit mentality. My head baseball coach in college didn't train his players for four years of college baseball, he trained us for the years after. Baseball is 90 percent mental, 10 percent skill. He warned it wasn't about getting beat physically, it was getting beat mentally. My clients bring a lot of emotion to their retirement planning. You have to have inner strength and understand you're in this for the long haul.

L&HA: Are these lessons unique to baseball more than other sports?
KG: Coach always said, "The good thing about baseball is it's not football. You don't play once a week on Sundays. You play baseball almost every day, so take emotion out of the game.” The stock market likewise is open five days a week. If you're playing or investing on emotion and you don't stick to a disciplined game plan, you're going to lose in every aspect.

L&HA: What is there about playing second base that is relevant to working with clients?
KG:
At second base there are multiple responsibilities and lots of ground to cover. A hitter could bunt the ball in a situation where you thought he would hit and swing hard. You're prepared to dive left or right, you're prepared to turn a double play. Instead the hitter drops down a bunt and the first baseman takes off to field that ball, and you move to cover first base. The mental preparation I got from my coach helped me transition into financial planning because every day we're faced with political and international situations that affect our markets. I have to maneuver and capture what's going on and translate that to my clients when the phones start ringing.

L&HA: You started to play baseball quite young?
KG:
My mother and father got me into baseball when I was three years old and guided me into every competitive league possible. Starting early applies to financial planning. I learned discipline at a young age, and I’ve recovered from serious sports injuries. If you start putting away money early, you’ll have that nest egg to fund your own business or create your own pension plan when your baseball days are over.

L&HA: The cornerstone of your work with clients is what you call safe-money planning. What do you mean by that term?
KG
: In my practice tailored to serve pre-retirees and the retirement market, we help identify income gaps. When people retire, they need 70 to 80 percent of the salary they were making. Conservative investment is the first bucket we use. We account for overhead such as mortgages, car payments, and health insurance premiums, all that’s needed so the lights can stay on.

We take the minimum amount of money possible to solve for the maximum amount of guaranteed lifetime income

We take the minimum amount of money possible to solve for the maximum amount of guaranteed lifetime income (over the spouse's life as well depending on the contract). Then we use the discretionary income to do some financial planning inside the market. We use conservative income growth portfolios that generate dividends and interest for income later and to outpace inflation.

L&HA: You were awarded the 2014 Women's Choice Award for your work with female clients. How did you become comfortable and skillful in working with women?
KG:
My mom has been a great influence. As a young woman she worked on Wall Street as a bond transfer agent with E. F. Hutton and Dean Witter. I grew up around two older sisters and watched my mom take control of the household when tragedy struck. She didn't buckle; she got stronger. Seeing a mom in a father's role gave me the ability to connect with female clients. Some are widowed, some single. Many have grown past troubled times.

L&HA: Giving back is important to you as well?
KG
: My mom influenced me there, too, to understand the importance of caring and giving. I'm a heavy contributor to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In my practice we do a lot of client events, keeping clients involved, and feeling like a family.

L&HA: Giving clients control is a key factor, especially in working with women.
KG
: All my new clients want to know how much involvement they will have. I tell them, “You’re the driver. I bring the strategies, you tell me to pull the trigger. That's how partners work in a successful business.” They’ve worked their whole lives for their money. I can give them the financial stabilizers and tools, but I let them tell me what they want to put in place.

L&HA: You’re a proponent of income planning with annuities?
KG:
Yes, because insurance companies are able to give contractual guarantees for income to the client and spouse over a lifetime. Many times when a spouse dies Social Security or pensions could be lost, so this could address an income deficit. If the account value is still intact, assuming that the whole product has done what it's built to do and the market is being generous, we're able to leave a legacy to the beneficiaries. We stress that the income should not come from the maybe’s of the market. Start taking some hard-earned dollars off the table and find a more guaranteed place to put them. It's not how much you make on your money, it's how much you keep.

L&HA: What advice do you have for baseball fans sitting in the stands?
KG
: Pay attention to details of the game. Many people, especially young kids, come to a game to see a homerun or the pitcher throw 100 miles an hour and strike somebody out. They overlook the guys that are saving runs from being scored, guys that are diving all over the field. Those strategic aspects of the game make for winning and losing. That's true of financial planning. You have to take care of the details and people have to have the right expectations.